Drum Circle Etiquette

Article by Arthur Hull

Drum circle events of any kind, are about dynamic interactive musical and personal relationships.

These relationships, when involved in any group rhythmical alchemy event, are based on a simple set of unwritten guide lines. When adhered to, these relationship guide lines can help direct the group of players to their highest musical potential.

In culturally specific circles, these unwritten guide lines have been developed through centuries of ancestral evolution. They can also apply to any contemporary western version of a drum circle, from a “free-form” drum jam to a facilitated community rhythm event.

These unwritten musical and personal relationship guide lines are contained within what I call Drum Circle Etiquette.

To most drum circle regulars, Drum Circle Etiquette is just a set of nonverbal agreements that everyone adheres to in order to create a fun and exciting musical experience together.

DC Hawaii Drum Circle Etiquette

Arthur Hull, Don Davidson and Cameron Tummel in Hawaii

Below are my standard Drum Circle Etiquette suggestions for playing in most community drumming environments.

Using these “Arthurian” suggestions will help you comfortably merge into an ongoing drumming circle without being obtrusive.

By adhering to these Drum Circle Etiquette guide lines you will make the drum circle experience more enjoyable for yourself and the people around you.

You will then be a fully participating and contributing member of an“ in-the-moment” rhythmical alchemy orchestra, sometimes called a drum circle.

Don’t wear rings, watches, or bracelets while playing drums.

This protects the head on the drum as well as the drum itself from the metal. It also protects your hands.

Ask permission before playing somebody else’s drum.

For some drummers, his or her instrument is a very personal possession. Also if someone gets up and leaves the circle to get a drink or go to the bathroom, don’t immediately jump in and take their seat. In some drumming communities the drummers will put something on their seat, cover her or his drum with something, or lay their drum on it’s side to signify that they will be back.

Listen as much as you play.

By listening to what’s going on in the circle as you play, you will have a better sense of how you might fit into the groove that is being created.
Support the fundamental groove that you hear in the drum song being created in the circle. You don’t have to be a rhythm robot and hold down the same part all night long.
There is plenty of freedom within the fundamental groove to experiment with while expressing your rhythmical spirit.
Leave rhythmical space for other players in the circle to express themselves. Don’t fill up the space with your own notes so much that there isn’t much creative space left for the other players.

Play at the volume of the group.

If you can only hear yourself, you are probably not having a constructive musical relationship with the rest of the players in the circle.

Good volume dynamics create good relationship dynamics.

Play softly enough so that you can hear everyone around you.

While you are drumming, be sure to follow and support the dynamic changes in volume and tempo that the group will go through during a drum circle event.

Share the solo space.

If you are at the advanced level of rhythmical expertise where soloing with your drum is available to you, then you know the excitement and pleasure of being able to play over, around, and through the drum circle groove.

Soloing through a drum circle groove is very much like a bird flying through the forest. But the “solo air” above can’t accommodate more than a few people soloing at the same time.

If there is more than one soloist available in a circle be sure to share the solo space with them.

The best way for two or three drum soloists to play through the groove together is to have a “drum dialogue” with each other.

In a facilitated drum circle event a good facilitator will have found all of the advanced drummers in the circle and would be “show casing” them individually or encouraging them to trade solos with each other.

Don’t smoke in the circle.

Drumming is a high energy aerobic exercise. Respect the need of everyone to breath uncontaminated air in such a closely packed environment.

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